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Wednesday, August 18, 1999 Published at 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

New president for Singapore

Singapore has tough credentials for the office of president

A former diplomat and protégé of Singaporean strongman Lee Kuan Yew has become the island state's sixth president after emerging as the sole candidate to pass the screening process.

SR Nathan was proclaimed president without a ballot - the election, originally set for 28 August, has been cancelled.

Mr Nathan's candidacy was endorsed by the country's elder statesman, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who was Prime Minister of Singapore for 31 years and still wields a powerful influence.

[ image: Mr Nathan has the backing of the government]
Mr Nathan has the backing of the government
The election committee said two other candidates, Ooi Boon Ewe and Tan Soo Phuan, did not meet the requirements for a certificate of eligibility but did not elaborate on what these might be.

It was the second time that Mr Tan, head of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, had failed to receive the certificate of eligibility.

He was also disqualified in 1993 when President Ong Teng Cheong won in Singapore's first direct presidential election.

No contest

At the time, in order to allow Singaporeans to vote, the government pressed former bureaucrat Chua Kim Yeow to run against him.

[ image: Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew remains a strong influence]
Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew remains a strong influence
But later, Senior Minister Lee said a contest was unnecessary.

"The last time was the first time ever, so it was necessary to run the system in," he said earlier this week. "This is the second time so we didn't feel strongly about it."

Opposition politicians disagree and say that, even if there was only one qualified candidate, Singapore's three million-strong population should have had their say on the government-appointed candidate.

"If this presidency is going to be one elected by the people then he must be accountable to the people and not the government of the day," said Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party.

Ceremonial post

Last month President Ong sparked a national debate on the role of the presidency by complaining of difficulties in defining the scope of the office and his right to access government information.

Senior Minister Lee eventually intervened this week declaring that the presidency was a mostly ceremonial post.

The People's Action Party, which was established by Mr Lee, has been in power without a break since 1959.

Under the constitution, candidates for the presidency must have executive and financial experience in government, a statutory board or a top company for at least three years.

Mr Nathan, an ethnic Indian in a country where 78% of the population are ethnic Chinese, has had extensive experience in the diplomatic and private sector.

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